San Dieguito River, hitching on trucks, waterless in Borrego, escape from Vietnam, Devil's Peak in Baja, accident in Baja, wild horses of Coyote Canyon
8:30 a.m., June 17
British electronic pop duo, the Pet Shop Boys, performed at Copley Symphony Hall on October 8 to a sold out house. This was the pair’s second time at Symphony Hall, having played there on their last visit to San Diego, on June 4 2002.
Touring in support of their recent album, Electric, the Pet Shop Boys did include four cuts from the new disc, but this was essentially a greatest hits show.
The basic stage set was minimal, one microphone stand for singer Neil Tennant and a keyboard on a stand rig for Chris Lowe. There were also two dancers, male and female, and four assistants in lab coats. The sole stage props were two cages, used for a couple of numbers mid show.
Minimal the stage set may have been, but it was evident that great care went into this presentation, down to the smallest details. Even the lighting towers were decorated with the circuit board graphics.
It truly was an amazing production all around. The sound was excellent. There were two sheer screens as well as a solid one, each covering the entire stage area, for layered projections and interaction between. There was enough fog in Symphony Hall for the floor to take on the look of a cloud, the better to view wildly varied 3D laser displays, which at one point projected into the audience. And there were the costume changes, including those of the two dancers. The most striking of which was the dancers wearing steer skulls with shaggy hair, performing synchronized moves at various points in the show. Add in three decades of hit songs and the concert was a surreal feast for the eyes as well as the ears.
The show opened up with a short film of motion through various sorts of tunnels, basically an extended version of the video for their single “Axis” (2013). Tennant and Lowe’s silhouettes appeared, approaching the audience, but behind a screen. Elaborate costuming was on display from the start. Wearing cone hats and something that appeared to be either a pixel smudge, a splash of paint or a jacket made of black drinking straws, the audience greeted the pair ecstatically and kept up the enthusiasm throughout the roughly 90 minute set, 23 song set. “Axis” soon segued into “One More Chance” (1984). By the time the front screen dropped at the opening of the third song, “Opportunities (Lets Make Lots of Money)” (#10, 1987), most of the floor was on its feet and stayed that way though out the show.
The set was comprised of a good mix of classics and recent singles. The audience seemed to know the words to all the songs, even the new ones, with “West End Girls” (#1, 1984) the first of several where the crowd singing was as loud as Tennant’s. Hit after hit followed including “Leaving” (US Dance #10, 2009) and “Miracles” (UK #10, 2003). One of the night’s best responses was to new song, “Thursday” which featured an onscreen cameo from rapper Example.
Lowe never moved while behind the keyboards and never spoke, however Tennant moved all over the stage and several times mentioned San Diego, getting the loudest cheer when commenting that ten years was too long to wait between visits to our city.
The set proper wrapped up with three of their best known songs, “It’s A Sin” (#9, 1987) “Domino Dancing” (#18, 1988) and “Always On My Mind” (#4, 1987), the latter two featuring the audience, encouraged by Tennant, taking the backing vocal parts.
The Pet Shop Boys quickly returned to encore with their version of the Village People tune “Go West” (US #106, UK #2, 1993) and then closing with a medley of the new albums “Vocal” (US Dance #3) and “It’s Alright” (UK #5) from 1989’s Introspective album. Following a blast of triangular, orange colored confetti, the evening closed with Tennant and Lowe walking off stage – notably with the music still playing - leaving just the dancers for a brief time. After they too walked off, the stage lights stayed on for a bit, but the show was over.
Hands down the best mix of visuals and music I’ve ever seen, and a great show from start to finish, incorporating everything from electronica to modern dance in one stage sized kaleidoscope. The crowd loved every second.